Medical Tourism: The Benefits of Seeking Healthcare Abroad

By some estimates, nearly 1 million Americans every year seek healthcare treatments provided by professionals outside the United States. I have had the pleasure, over the past few months, of visiting such a facility in the Cayman Islands called Health City. Health City provides treatment to individuals from the U.S. and other countries including the Caribbean. This is of interest to me both as a healthcare professional and as a patient. As the costs of healthcare rise and insurance coverage is harder to come by, many of us are forced to look at creative alternatives for quality, affordable healthcare. It is appealing to me, for example, that Health City has a clear menu of services and pricing available. The price for my routine scans and labs to detect a cancer recurrence are nearly 75% lower than they are from my current provider.

This may not have mattered as much 5 years ago when my deductible was $500 but when my deductible is higher than what may be an out of pocket cost for a procedure, I begin to consider other options and I think many are in the same boat. Quality of care is extremely important to me and I am impressed with the quality now available in facilities abroad. Health City just received the gold seal in JCI accreditation and the customer service rivals anything I have seen stateside. In fact, I think there is a great deal American healthcare systems can learn from the attention paid when patient dollars are actually coming from patients rather than insurance companies. So here are some things to consider if you are looking for options for care:

It is often less expensive. This has been historically, the driving factor for people looking for alternatives to costly treatments at home. The scenarios many of us are familiar with are people who don’t have insurance at all who are forced to seek life saving procedures in foreign countries to survive and not go bankrupt. Their aunt went to Mexico for dentures because they were affordable in comparison to what she could get in the U.S. or a co-worker is seeking alternative treatment that can’t pass FDA approval here. While these are definitely still occurring, there are more and more American’s receiving complex procedures done by highly trained healthcare professionals in countries with a reputable medical infrastructure. Nearly half a million people from around the world travel to Thailand for medical treatment every year and that number grows by 16% each year. Thailand is quite savvy at partnering with travel agencies and hotel groups to provide enticing five star service to patients considering treatment there. They are also becoming a sought after destination for Alzheimer’s treatment and care.

It is sometimes covered by insurance. Some insurance companies are actually encouraging their members to seek less expensive treatment overseas. Even large corporate employers are looking at partnering with reputable health care facilities across the globe in an effort to cut premium costs for employees. As more and more people are comfortable and able to travel internationally, the feasibility of destination medicine increases and the trepidation, conversely, is diminished. With the current costs of healthcare increasingly being passed on to consumers, many Americans have no choice but to look for cost saving alternatives to expensive procedures and even routine care.

Attention to customer service.  There seems to be a greater importance placed on the patient experience in overseas healthcare facilities. This may be because they realize there are obstacles to overcome when making a decision on traveling for healthcare procedures and an exceptional experience is imperative. I believe it is also basic principles of business. You don’t have to be an economist to figure out that the person with the money in their pocket is the one who gets attention from those selling products. This is also true for healthcare services. In the U.S., for a variety of reasons, the healthcare consumer has fallen out of focus for many healthcare systems because they aren’t the payor, the insurance company is. With self pay healthcare facilities, there is an understanding that the patient has options so they need to put in some effort to get their business. When you walk into Health City for example, you are greeted almost immediately by reception staff, then accompanied by a concierge, to your appointment.

You can sense there is actual hospitality staff in the facility and their job is to ease your stress and make certain your needs are met.

The place is immaculate and the tranquility of the outside has been brought in, in a way that is difficult to describe but it is something I haven’t experienced in America. There is less noise and the energy is less of hustle and bustle and more calm and serene. The benefits of this alone, we know have a major impact on healing.

Recovery seems better on vacation. On Grand Cayman, they are building a world class Arnold Palmer designed golf course and of course, there is the beach. Extending a stay after a medical procedure is appealing to many people, myself included. If I can diminish even some of the anxiety I experience when having to gear up for testing to find out if my cancer has returned, it is valuable. Even better if I can turn it into something I actually look forward to rather than dread. Of course there is a cost factor if you are planning to recover someplace other than home but for some people it is an option and money considered well spent.

Depending on the extent of the procedure being performed, some medical tourism patients enjoy exploring a new part of the world and experience it in a different way than if it were only a vacation.

They get an understanding of the people and culture and even make lifelong friends.

Anyone considering travel outside the United Stated for medical care should do so carefully and do their research prior to making a decision. As a healthcare professional, I have always been wary of regulations and oversight in overseas countries when it comest to healthcare. In the new world order, things have changed and while you still need to be vigilant, ask questions and do your research, I believe there are some very good alternatives to stateside healthcare out there.

Source: Michelle Chaffee